San Francisco groove-riders Tussle have undergone some pretty extensive line-up changes over the years, and with the comings and goings of various members the group’s sound has shifted slowly but surely away from the primal percussive workouts of their earliest recordings to something more substantial. For their fourth album, Tempest, the quartet (Tomo Yasuda, Nathan Burazer, Jonathan Holland and Kevin Woodruff) enlisted the help of JD Twitch – one half of DJ/ production team Optimo, whose now-defunct Glasgow club night famously mixed house and techno with no-wave, jazz, reaggae and industrial noise – along with Dennis Young of Liquid Liquid (Tussle’s most obvious post-punk progenitors), who overdubbed contributions from his home in New Jersey. On Tempest, therefore, the focus is as much on texture as rhythm; dub-tempo opener “Yume No Muri” layers acid house bleeps, bird-like synth chirps and decaying, trebly guitar twang over a bassline so fat you fear it could actually swallow you whole, whilst “Cat Pirate”‘s 808s and glassy time-stretched arpeggios recall late-’90s rave classics from the likes of Josh Wink and Underworld and the crunchy, squelchy “P44” could pass quite convincingly as a lost cut from Leftfield’s first album sessions. “Eye Context” (below) returns to more familiar Tussle territory – elastic bass and see-sawing keyboard riffs bouncing off racing cymbals, handclaps and cowbells – but it’s the lower-BPM moments that define the album, and the group’s new direction; the spaced out “Yellow Lighter” suggests how the recent collaboration between The Orb and Lee Perry might have sounded had it happened during the latter’s crazy ’70s peak (i.e. Alex Paterson handcuffed to a radiator in Black Ark Studios, Scratch waving around a dead fish yelling “more bass”), whilst “Lightly Salted” marries skipping industrial funk to a reggae skank as melodica and what sounds like the ghost of a saxophone duel in the foreground. It’s an interesting development, and one which serves the band well; the tempos might have dropped, but like Tussle themselves, the rhythm just keeps on pushing forward.
Tempest is out September 25 via Smalltown Supersound